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MEN OF MATHEMATICS
granted him a subsidy to continue his university studies at
Kristiania in order that he might brush up his French and
German. That is exactly the sort of decision he might have
expected from any hody of officials conspicuous for their good
hearts and common sense. Common sense, however, has no
business dictating to genius.
Abel dallied a year and a half at Kristiania, not wasting his
time, but dutifully keeping his part of the contract by wrestling
(not too successfully) with German, getting a fair start on
French, and working incessantly at his mathematics. With his
incurable optimism he had also got himself engaged to a young
woman - Crelly Kemp. At last, on 27 August 1825, when Abel
was twenty-three, his friends overcame the last objection of the
Government, and a royal decree granted him sufficient funds
for a year's travel and study in France and Germany. They did
not give him much, but the fact that they gave frim anything
at aH in the straitened financial condition of the country says
more for the state of civilization in Norway in 1825 than could
a whole encyclopaedia of the arts and trades. Abel was grateful.
It took him about a month to straighten out his dependents
before leaving. But thirteen months before this, innocently
believing that all mathematicians were as generous-minded as
himself, he had burned one of his ladders before ever setting
foot on it.
Out of his own pocket - God only knows how - Abel had paid
for the printing of his memoir in which the impossibility of
solving the general equation of the fifth degree algebraically
is proved. It was a pretty poor job of printing but the best back-
ward Norway could manage. This, Abel naively believed, was
to be bis scientific passport to the great mathematicians of the
Continent. Gauss in particular, he hoped, would recognize the
signal, merits of the work and grant him more than a formal
interview. He could not know that 'the prince of mathemati-
cians* sometimes exhibited anything but a princely generosity
to young mathematicians struggling for just recognition.
Gauss duly received the paper. Through unimpeachable
witnesses Abel heard how Gauss welcomed the offering. With-
out deigning to read it he tossed it aside with the disgusted
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